Identifying Hazards in the Workplace

One of the most important tools utilized in the workplace is the Job Safety Analysis, commonly referred to as the JSA. They come in several variations with differing degrees of detail. They all, however, follow the same concept in which three important factors must be identified: the job step, the hazard associated with the step, and the mitigative action to be taken in response to the hazard.
As a trained professional entering the workplace, the individual should understand their role of being able to list and follow a job step. The hazard must be identified for the job step before any mitigative action can be developed and implemented. So, what is a hazard?
What is a Hazard?
A hazard has the ability to inflict injury, death, or damage. It can take many forms, including an item, event, and even a behavior. In fact, Merriam-Webster defines a hazard as “the effect of unpredictable and unanalyzable forces in determining events.”
Identification is key to preventing hazards from unleashing harm in the workplace. Making this process as simple as possible, hazards can be compartmentalized into six categories or types. This process can serve as a road map in identifying hazards properly that pertain to your scope of work.
Six Types
Physical: A physical hazard is one that takes the form of a factor or situation that provides harm when contact is made. This would include items found in walkways, better known as tripping hazards. Another example is using a tool for an application for which it was not designed, such as using a screwdriver for a chisel.
Chemical: Chemical hazards are encountered when individuals are exposed to chemicals in the workplace. This can include exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas through inhalation. Members of the workforce can also absorb chemicals through their skin and become sick.
Ergonomic: Ergonomic hazards are encountered through physical means that can cause injury. Poor posture at workstations and improper manual handling are relevant examples of such hazards.
Biological: Biological hazards are those substances that can invoke threats to the workforce through biological means. This would include toxins and viruses, such as the COVID-19.
Psychological: Psychological hazards can affect the physical and emotional health of the workforce. It can arrive in several forms, including stress, bullying, and violence.
Environmental: Environmental hazards can threaten the work environment and, therefore, directly affect the personal safety of employees. Pollution such as oil spills and natural disasters such as hurricanes can change lives instantly.
How to Manage
Now that we know how to identify a hazard, a management process must be enacted. The JSA is an excellent medium to accomplish this task. By identifying a hazard, it can be listed in that second column of JSA as it is specific to a specific job step, typically found in the first column.
Because we know our job steps and the hazards associated with them, that third column on the same JSA proves to be the most effective route in hazard management. While the typical and industry-accepted JSA requires that the hazards be listed for each job step, it additionally requires that mitigative action be documented on how to combat the hazard listed. It actually serves as a specific set of instructions on how to manage the hazard.
It is vital to remember that some job steps might involve more than one hazard. It is essential to identify all associated hazards in order to properly manage them all. Consider the job step of grinding a subpar weld on a spool of pipe. That step would involve multiple hazards, including, but not limited to, foreign objects contacting the eyes, shavings striking the hands and skin, and grinding wheels coming apart and striking the user.
Those hazards would be mitigated and managed with multiple applications. The mitigative steps would include donning safety glasses and face shields. This would help keep debris out of the user’s eyes and would also protect the face should the grinding wheel come apart when applied to the weld. Gloves and long sleeve shirts could also be listed as hazard management measures for protection against debris and sparks. Additionally, another mitigative action provided could be making sure the wheel used on the grinder is properly inspected prior to use and that it is designed to be used on the particular grinder to which it is being attached.
While this listing of protective measures can manage the onset of hazards, it also proves useful as a list of equipment and supplies needed to safely complete the project.
Good hazard management is a proactive measure in ensuring safety in the workplace. This certainly beats the alternative of reacting to an incident where a hazard went unnoticed. Intense concentration on identifying hazards paired with detailed mitigative measures serves as the road to success in managing all types of hazards in the workplace.

Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with eight years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and follows and photographs American Kennel Club field and herding trials. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188